Ohio State University Breakthrough Improves Quality Of Hearing Aids

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We're in the midst of holiday party season. Many of those parties can get noisy which is a problem for people who wear hearing aids, because most devices boost background noise as well as speech.  

But in the Next 10 years that may change because researchers at OSU have developed a breakthrough in hearing aid technology.

Corey Ferguson's hearing was damaged from many childhood ear infections.

"I've been wearing hearing aids for almost 25 years now," he said.

With current high quality hearing aids, he can hear very well in a quiet room.  But when Corey is in a restaurant, at a party or sporting event, he struggles like many people with hearing aids.

"I can hear their voice, but I also hear everything in the background. And sometimes, I'm unable to distinguish what their voice is actually saying," he said. "If I know I'm going to be going to an activity that has a lot of background noise, sometimes I don't even go."

Dr. Eric Healy, a professor of OSU Speech and Hearing Science, said that story is a very familiar one.

"Background noise is probably the number one problem for folks with a hearing loss," he said.

Dr.  Healy said that for the last 50 years, researchers have hunted for a way to make speech clearer and damp out the noise.  But he said now his colleague Lem Wang may have done it. The research team found a way to break down sound into units - either of speech, or of noise - then discard the noise.

"We've got several listeners that went from the ability to understand a word in perhaps every other sentence, to understanding essentially every word said.  It's night and day."

As part of the study, Corey tested the new technology. He says it made a profound difference. He has toddlers in the family with hearing loss and sees this as a way to brighten their future.

"It's really exciting to know that this technology is going to be available for them, for the majority of their lifetimes," Corey said.

Dr. Healy said several hearing aid manufacturers have expressed interest in this new technology though it still needs more development.

But he hoped that within the Next 10 years, it will be on the market.